In 2017, right after then-Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne was hired by the Capstone, there were some who were a bit worried by the red flags that almost immediately arose from his tenure with the Wildcats. I was one of them.
The facts of this sex scandal that resulted in serious felonies being filed are rather sordid and complicated, and they do not implicate Byrne’s conduct as a malefactor. However, his administrative responses (and non-responses) there have once again reared their head in a manner that Alabama faithful have become all-too familiar with the past few weeks.
Byrne allegedly failed the student athletes to whom their safety was entrusted; he allegedly showed a remarkable degree of opacity and lack of transparency in handling a very serious matter — hiding behind the thinnest veneer possible; he and the administration were alleged to have displayed an appalling lack lack of competence and thoroughness; and the post hoc tight-lipped administrative response allegedly did not indicate that he took the matter seriously.
NB: We are saying allegedly here, because after these incidents occurred, Baillie Gibson sued the University of Arizona, her rapist, and Greg Byrne — a matter which settled for $999,000 (and cost the School another $2.6 million to defend). Like most settlements, the defendants admitted no liability, so that is how we must leave it. Though, I would note from my experience that entities rarely spend 2+ years and pay $3.6 million in fees and awards over a nuisance suit. You can make your own decision here.
But the allegations in that suit are instructive, because a similar pattern is popping up again in Tuscaloosa — and has been for the last several months (especially the last few weeks), as Byrne has left the Basketball program, Coach Nate Oats, and Brandon Miller in particular with their bits dangling in the wind.
There is one persistent, troubling pattern with Byrne: Waiting until a crisis has boiled over and then scrambling to act. Nothing is done proactively. Nothing is done to advocate for the interests of the student-athletes. Nothing is done to protect the interests of employees under his watch. It is a Chinese fire drill of ineptitude as painful to watch as it is contemptible.
Following the death of Jamea Harris in January, the University of Alabama ought to have immediately engaged in crisis communications. It would not have taken much; a short statement, in fact:
“The University of Alabama and Coach Nate Oats extend our deepest sympathy to the Harris family for their loss. This is an ongoing criminal investigation, and the accused have rights owing to them under the Constitution of the United States, and the State of Alabama. So as not to prejudice those rights, that procedure, and the grief of the Harris family, neither the University nor Coach Oats will have further comment at this time.”
Not only is such a remark respectful of the rights and interests of all parties, it has the benefit of being true.
What did we instead get? Administrative malfeasance, charitably; moral cowardice, less charitably.
It began with far too much silence from the University at first, with Coach Oats being left to his own devices. He misspoke, sparking a furore that had to then be clarified by the SID’s office, led by Steven Gonzalez. And that was still tone-deaf, leading to more questions and criticism. Here is a hint Mr. Gonzalez, a man who I devoutly hope loses his job over this: Praying that legal troubles blow over may work at Liberty (yes, we actually hired a person from the ethical calamity of Falwell’s Pool Boy University to direct basketball comms...and it shows), but that sort of approach is simply insufficient at the taxpayer-funded state flagship.
Did any of the half-hearted, half-witted, half-assed attempts by the SID or Admins resolve the matter? No, of course not. Instead, the University fumbled around like a 15-year-old in the back of mom’s station wagon: sweaty, afraid to talk about it, and with absolutely no idea that the hell it was doing, but trying to find something that felt good to them — damn everyone else.
It could have released one blanket statement.
It did not.
It could have properly prepared Coach Oats, it did not.
It could have scheduled a national press conference with Greg Byrne or his deputy (and basketball oversight AD), Shane Lyons. It did not.
It could have presented one consolidated, unifying message on the national stage with Byrne, Lyons, Oats and University counsel. It did not.
It could have done all of those things alone or in tandem. It did not.
And when the non-story regarding Miller properly returning property left in his care became a firestorm of bad faith, when the local beats at AL.com were trafficking in actual malice, did the University learn from their month of botched responses and step up to the plate to defend Oats or Miller against Goodman’s hack-ass clickbait or Clay Travis’s racist attacks? Even when such attacks resulted in actual threats to UA employees and staff?
No, of course not.
And with each passing week, the optics grow worse as the SID and ADs allow disinformation and innuendo to flourish. Democracy may die in darkness, but dumbasses thrive in it; and Byrne and Co. have slammed off every light switch in Coleman Coliseum.
They have again left Coach Oats to go it alone. They have again left Brandon Miller without the institutional shield that he was entitled to.
This has been incompetence of the first order on a good day; and on its worst day, it’s a craven response that reeks of moral feebleness. Big Bad ESPN may say mean things to the 50-year-old millionaire AD. Wall Street Journal may ask rude questions under the lights.
Tough. It’s your responsibility to shoulder that burden.
Instead of firm, professional, factual and candid administrative action, we received an entire administrative non-response that smacks of timidity, that oozes a lack of commitment to the University. It comes off as cowardly admins with no skin in the game and no apparent regard for the university praying like hell the news cycle passes them by.
They are failing Nate Oats and the program. They are failing boosters and alumni and taxpayers. They are failing student athletes and employees. And they are failing Brandon Miller.
People ought to lose their livelihoods over this...many someones, I’d wager. As it stands now, all they have done is make things incalculably worse.